By Drew Brown
Jeanette Dorner 94 is restoring 31 acres of pasture on the Nisqually River delta, converting it to its pristine state as a salt marsh estuary. In time, the area will again provide substantial benefits to shore birds and native fish species, including threatened salmon.
Dorner is the salmon recovery program manager for
Indian Tribe. Her job is to restore and protect salmon habitat all
along the Nisqually River corridor, from Mt. Rainier to Puget Sound. The
work is supported by grants, principally from the federal government.
"The river has been a tribal cultural resource for thousands of years," Dorner said. "The tribe has successfully protected its legal right under treaty to fish in the Northwest. Now we are restoring this watershed to ensure that there will be salmon plentiful enough to fish today and in future generations."
Dorner has managed clean-up and natural vegetation
restoration projects on the banks of the Nisqually
and its tributaries. Her biggest undertaking has been the restoration
of a portion of the delta on tribal property, near the confluence of the
Nisqually, Red Salmon Creek and the southern end of Puget Sound. The land
is adjacent to The U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service Nisqually Delta Refuge.
Over the past century, the overall area and quality of the natural wetlands at Nisqually has been compromised by the construction of a series of dikes designed to make the land suitable for farming by blocking the ebb and flow of water. The non-native and unnatural habitats that resulted from dike construction have hurt juvenile salmon, migratory birds and other species in the region.
Under Dorners supervision, the
tribe removed dikes surrounding the project site and filled "borrow
ditches" between the dikes and the pasture from which dirt was "borrowed"
by farmers to build the dikes. Otherwise the pasture was left unchanged.
With the dikes removed, twice a day at high tide about a foot of water covers the entire area. Sediment from the tidewaters has covered the decaying pasture grasses and created a mudflat. In some places the mudflat will build to the point where natural salt marsh vegetation will begin to grow, eventually returning the land to a salt marsh estuary.
Juvenile salmon are already returning to the area
to feed and become acclimated to their new life in saltwater before embarking
on their ocean journey. It is a crucial link in restoring to successful
"Its simple," Dorner said. "Humans
needed to get out of the way and let nature take its course to restore
Dorner and her team have staked out the mudflat and
are watching the area closely during this, the first growing season, to
see what kind of vegetation will replace the pasture grasses and how much
natural sediment will accumulate.
Dorner has been interested in environmental issues
for years and her work in salmon recovery began when she was in graduate
school at the University of Washington. She established a council for
Creek in Roy, Wash. There volunteers removed weeds and grass from
the creek bed and planted trees and native shrubs on the shore. This,
in turn allowed salmon to swim upstream again and give Roy its first salmon
run in more than 50 years.
"It was very exciting," Dorner said. "At
that point, I was hooked.""
Her environmental roots go back further. At PLU,
she was a double major in earth sciences and environmental studies. The
latter didnt even exist thenshe developed an independent major.
"Interest in the environment really built up
when I was in school," said Dorner, whose parents, Celine and Bryan,
are both math professors at PLU. "My professors had the knowledge
to help me pursue it fully." PLU now offers majors and minors in
Dorner said she was influenced by professors such
as Jill Whitman, professor of geosciences and chair of the Environmental
Studies Program, and Sheri Tonn, professor of chemistry, now vice president
of finance and operations. They encouraged Dorner to pursue the next step
in her journeya Fulbright Scholarship to India. Dorners research
had her in Delhi doing a water quality study on the Yamuna River, the
main tributary of the Ganges.
In India rivers are holy, and citizens take wilted garlands off statues, put them in the plastic bags and drop them in the river. Dorner thought she was educating citizens by telling them of the environmental hazards of plastic. She later learned that a man made his living collecting and recycling those bags.
"It was a profound moment. I learned how important it is to fully understand a community before trying to make changes to their way of life," Dorner said.
Her relationship with the Nisqually Tribe during graduate school led to a job offer after graduation in 1999. She immediately began working on their estuary restoration project. Dorner now regularly watches juvenile Chinook salmon use the estuary. But this is only phase one, and nature takes decades to make changes.
"Its exciting, but I realize I will have passed retirement age when we know the ultimate impact of this change," said Dorner, who is expecting her first child in July. "Im doing this for my grandchildren and future generations."
|Back to top Summer 2003 Scene Copyright ©2003 Pacific Lutheran University Credits ~ Last Updated 06-04-2003 ~ Comments|